Just a few weeks after the permanent closure of her influential soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen, chef Tanya Holland will step down from running operations of Town Fare at the Oakland Museum of California. In an emailed statement to Eater SF, museum director and CEO Lori Fogarty confirmed Holland’s relationship with the museum ends effective January 31, 2022 — just about seven months since the restaurant first debuted. “We wish chef Holland the very best in her future endeavors and we are grateful for her partnership in launching Town Fare at OMCA,” Fogarty’s statement reads. Eater SF reached out to Holland for comment but did not hear back by press time.
Following Holland’s departure, the Oakland Museum will be on the hunt for “a new cafe and catering enterprise with which to partner.” The cafe will keep its name — Town Fare — and some of Holland’s menu items will remain even after the chef’s relationship with the museum ends. New menu items will also be added, the museum promises. The vegetable-centric cafe opened in June 2021 and served a menu of light fare like ricotta toast with a cucumber salad and vegetarian muffuletta, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
At the time of the opening, Holland told the Chronicle she’d been interested in opening a restaurant at the museum for more than a decade, going back to when she worked for a catering company that served food there.
More recently, however, Holland has spoken about the difficulties of running a restaurant in Oakland; after the closure of her flagship restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen earlier this year, Holland told Berkeleyside high rent and increasing crime in the area were “too much” for the business to bear. After shutting down temporarily just before Christmas 2021, Holland decided to close Brown Sugar Kitchen permanently when she and her investor “came to [the] realization that it was throwing good money after bad,” she told Berkeleyside. She’d already filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May of that year in a last-ditch attempt to stabilize the business as it struggled with the impact of the pandemic.
In the wake of its closing, Brown Sugar Kitchen was widely heralded as a defining restaurant for Oakland’s dining scene. It originally opened in 2008 in the West Oakland space chef Matt Horn’s eponymous barbecue destination now calls home and moved to its final home in Uptown Oakland in 2019.
With the decision to leave Town Fare, Holland no longer has any operating restaurants, though she’s spoken about plans to release a new cookbook in the fall and told WBUR she isn’t counting out the idea of opening another place for people to enjoy her food. The chef, who appeared on season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef, also has a show on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, hosts a podcast, and is a member of the Board of Trustees of the James Beard Foundation.